I learned quite early, certain things you just didn’t need to tell Mama.
Not just my Mama, mind you, but mamas in general.
‘Cause even my Mama was scared of hers.
One afternoon as we came through town, Mama wasn’t paying attention as closely as she should have and ran through a red light.
“Mama!” I cried, expecting the police to appear out of nowhere to arrest her.
“Shhh,” she quieted me. “That light changed too quickly on me. It didn’t even turn yellow.”
I wasn’t sure of the facts; I was just in shock my Mama broke the law.
“Are you going to go to jail?” I asked her.
“No. I would just get a ticket,” she said. She was worried though, I could tell. More than likely, she had been trying to find her cigarettes and hadn’t realized she was approaching the light.
“You sure you not going to go to jail?” I asked. I only got $3 a week allowance; I didn’t know if it would be enough to bail the redhead out or not.
“I’m not, Kitten,” she said. “But, do me a favor, OK?”
“Don’t tell Granny.”
“Why?” That was my favorite question for everything and this time, it was a very important one. Was Granny secretly a cop?
Mama frowned. Why couldn’t I just do as I was asked?
“Because, I don’t want to get in trouble. And, she doesn’t need to know everything.”
Now, I didn’t want my Mama to get in trouble. Especially not with Granny.
But what I couldn’t understand was my Mama feared her.
Wasn’t she a grown up?
I never intended to tell on her, truly.
The slip just came out in conversation with Granny one day.
“Your Mama did what?”
Uh oh. I knew I had snitched and I felt awful about it.
The tongue lashing that followed was fierce. I felt sorry for Mama and slightly embarrassed. She was in her mid-40’s and I think she was grounded.
“Why did you tell her?” she asked me.
“It was a mistake, I didn’t mean to,” I said truthfully.
It didn’t matter though; the damage was done.
A few days later, Pop broke something.
“Don’t tell your Granny,” he said, hiding the evidence.
Before I could promise I wouldn’t, he added, “And I mean it. Don’t throw me under the bus like you did your own mama. That was wrong, child. Wrong.”
I didn’t make the same mistake twice and Pop was in the clear.
No one needed to endure Granny’s wrath.
“Did she get this upset when you did something wrong as a child?” I asked Mama.
“When I was little, I would rather take a whooping than listen to her fuss,” Mama said. “It may have hurt but it was over a lot quicker.”
I could see that. Sometimes, you’d think Granny was done giving you what-for, and then she would catch another wind and come back from Round 2.
Unlike Granny’s personal brand of fire and brimstone, Mama’s weapon is the incessant worry.
After I had given Cole some soup and Tylenol and told him to rest, I gave him one firm instruction: Don’t tell Nennie.
“Why can’t I tell my grandmother I am not feeling well?” he asked.
“Because,” I said. “Trust me.”
I am sure he didn’t mean to disclose to his beloved Nennie, just as I had not meant to tell Granny all those years before, but the next thing I knew, he was handing the phone to me.
“Nennie wants to talk to you,” he said.
“What is wrong with him? What are his symptoms? Have you taken his temperature? What did you give him? Does he have a rash? Does he have an appetite? What was the last thing he ate before he started feeling bad?”
This is just a sampling.
The barrage of worry-laden questions goes on for about 20 minutes.
She follows up by texting me every 10 minutes afterwards to know if he feels better.
“Send me a picture of him so I can check to see if he looks different.”
“I am not sending you a picture,” I texted back.
Horrors upon horrors, she did the cardinal sin of replying to a text with a call.
“Can you call the doctor to see if he is OK? Or take him somewhere?”
Keep in mind, I had just answered 200 million questions only an hour earlier.
“He’s fine,” I said. “Let me parent.”
“He may have e-coli or salmonella,” she says. “What if he is allergic to something?”
To get her to stop her worry rampage, I have to pull out the heavy artillery. “You mean like the time you nearly let me die when I was stung by a bee and you didn’t believe me when I told you it felt funny?”
It was mean, but it worked.
“Cole, why in the world did you tell my Mama you weren’t feeling well? She is going to text me all night to take your temp. We both know the reason you don’t feel good is because you ate a family bag of pizza rolls.”
“I’m sorry, Mama. I didn’t mean to,” he said. I knew he didn’t, but I was the one in the hot seat.
Mama finally calmed down after a few days and things went back to as normal as they can in our world.
Until I caught the tail end of my husband and son’s conversation one day.
“Don’t tell Mama,” Cole had said.
I heard Lamar agree.
I took a deep breath and readied myself. I knew how this was going to go down. This time, the mama in question was me.
“Don’t tell me what?”